From Interview on May 18, 2022
There were only four officers employed by the Talent Police on the day of the fire. Jennifer Snook, our Police Chief, was there along with Officer Michael Bates, Corporal Bernard Rogers, and Officer Lenin Carnighan. Chief Snook and Officer Carnighan still work for Talent Police. Two officers have taken other positions and have been replaced by new officers at this time. Officer Bates has moved to Ashland PD, and Corporal Rogers now works for Medford PD. But on the day of the fire these four made up our police force.
Chief Snook was on duty and Officer Carnighan was asleep since he had worked the night before. Around 10:30 am Chief Snook was informed that the fire was not stopping, and she called her three officers to come to work. From that moment and for the next 36 hours the four officers worked non-stop.
They listened to radioed orders from the Sherriff’s Department and began evacuating people from trailer parks that were in the path of the fire. They had to announce with a siren and a P.A. system to inform people of the impending danger and urge them to evacuate. They also went up to people’s doors, knocked, and gave them the warning. They went to apartments and homes too.
It soon became obvious that they were needed for traffic control. So, some officers did that while others were transporting people who had no way to escape. Chief Snook said there were some people just standing along the side of the road with boxes of their belongings not knowing where to go and having no car or means of transportation. The police picked them up and many were taken to the camp at the Expo.
The police coordinated buses for people needing transportation too. They found themselves collecting animals that were wandering as strays due to the fire. They had one cat that they kept at their station for a few days until other arrangements could be made. They distributed batteries, chargers, and Gatorade.
They were working in Talent, in Phoenix and in between these towns and the Expo Fire Rescue area. As the fire approached, they were sometimes in the midst of it, Chief Snook said they could hear it, “Fire has its own sound”, and it was eerie.
Officer Carnighan took a family to the camp at the Expo and then kept getting directed constantly to one emergency after another and could not get back to Talent. He cut through a wire fence to get one man out and he also broke a window in a burning trailer to rescue the family within. The officers sometimes had to coax people out of their homes, who, for some reason, were reluctant to leave.
The force all met up finally near City Hall at about three am of that first night when it was evident that the fire was not spreading quite as fast. They shared notes and information and tried to eat a little something, and then they went right back to work. The Chief did not go home for 2 days. She did take a bathroom break at long last sometime toward the end of that first 24 hours. The officers kept moving people out of town. They had to make a lot of moral decisions about going back in to rescue animals for people or help them get their medications. They were also on call for break-ins and looters. They arrested looters. They had a mission to protect people’s property.
As if these were not enough duties, they also found themselves moving abandoned trucks and truck trailers off the freeway. The Chief worked on getting a generator for the police station so that they could have lights and use their information systems there.
And how did four officers do all this? Well, all police departments, Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland, and the county Sheriff officers were working together and frequently passed the boundaries of their own community to answer calls and respond to more needs and crises. Still, the work of the Talent Police on that day, and the days to follow, were heroic and continuous.
Chief Snook expressed that the fire raised awareness of how to be prepared for such an emergency. They realized that they needed to have food and other supplies on hand in their station. Officers were sweating and dehydrated during the Almeda crisis. They now know they need to have a generator on hand, and a plan for vehicle fuel. Luckily the south Walmart in Medford set up a fuel station for the police and other responders during the Almeda fire. Agencies and businesses pulled together to meet the needs of the community both during and after the fire. Harry and David offered their Employment Office as a place where the police forces from various towns and the Sherriff’s Department could team up and work together to bring people back in or tell people that their home had been destroyed by the fire.
The involvement of the Talent Police in the Almeda fire did not end when the fire was finally extinguished. It carried on, doing many duties for the community long after the fire was out.